What Does A Travel Agent Do?

Hilarye Family Travel Tips, Resources 24 Comments

In this day of age, it’s easy for anyone to jump on the computer and great deal deals on travel. It doesn’t take an special training or certifications, just an internet connection. Thanks to companies such as Travelocity, Hotwire and a slew of others it is simple to book and go. We don’t really need a travel agent to book travel anymore, however, travel agents still exist. Why? What are the functions of a travel agency? How do travel agents make money? And exactly what do travel agents do?

In this post, we’ll be answering these questions and we’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to use one next time you travel.

functions of a travel agency

Functions of a Travel Agency

Booking

So why do travel agencies still exist? If it is so easy to book cheap travel why waste the time (and potentially pay more) to use an agent. Well, the functions of a travel agency go beyond just booking your travel. A good travel agent knows the ins and outs of travel. What you’re doing part-time to research destinations or transportation on your lunch break, they do full time. They know when to book travel, where to book travel, and how to book travel.

Better Deals

Sometimes, a seasoned veteran of the travel industry can score you a better deal on your travel. Some travel agents do get better deals on certain packages. They have created relationships with their vendors to be able to do so.

They often know the best day of the week to buy airline tickets, when holiday packages go on sale, and how long the rainy season lasts on a specific island. I know that with enough time and some google queries you can probably find most of that information on your own. However, with a travel agent, you’re paying for the convenience of not having to do so.

Specialized Travel

Some travel agents specialize in certain areas of travel. For example, an old employer of mine hired travel agency to book all of their business travel. With so many people traveling so much of the time, it just saved them so much money to contract out travel arrangements. They would have had an extra person on staff just to get people to the right places.

Other travel agents specialize in setting up complex group tours, such as cruise packages or mission tips. Setting up travel for a family reunion, language club or alumni group could be a logistical nightmare for most, but travel agents handle that sort of thing all of the time.

Specialized Locations

Other agents pick a specific destination and become an expert on just that location. In this way, they become a very valuable resource. Speaking with someone who is an expert on a specific location can save you a lot of time and in some cases heartache. Imagine booking a week stay in a city during an annual festival that causes major traffic and gridlock. Travel agents who specialize in specific destinations know the details and quirks of their specialties. Good agents become almost as knowledgeable as locals and you’ll have an insider helping to plan your trip.

Time-Saving

Believe it or not, there are still some people out there that book all of their travel through a travel agent. Are they saving any money? Probably not- but they are saving the time and hassle of the research that comes along with getting deals and becoming educated on destinations. What it comes down to in many cases is a trade of money for time. You’re paying someone else to help plan your vacation so you can spend more time doing whatever it is you do.

It’s similar to the visiting a nice restaurant. Sure you can cook at home, but wouldn’t you rather talk and enjoy conversation while your food is being cooked than stand over a hot stove. Plus, the quality of food you’re getting from a chef who has devoted time to learn the craft will most likely be better than something you’ve thrown together last minute with a recipe online.

Special Arrangements

Travel agents can be quite useful in other ways, for example, arranging passports and visas, recommending vaccines and medicine for foreign travel, and help with currency conversion. Some people may opt for a travel agent if they are dealing with a stressful situation such as the loss of a loved one, and would rather not spend time booking the trip and instead focus their attention on planning the funeral.

Someone in Your Corner

Agents fight for you as a traveler. They know that flights are delayed, storms weather and people get sick. They will be on your side through your travel experience from start to finish. When you book yourselves you’re on your own. If your flight is canceled and now you’re cruise is leaving without you, it is up to you to figure it out.

If a disaster like this ever strikes and you’ve booked with a travel agent you’ll have someone on your team making sure that things get back on track. Agents often have additional pull in this area, especially if they’ve worked in the past with a specific resort or cruise line. The best agents will bend over backward to make sure your trip is smooth.

Who Still Uses Travel Agents

Celebrities

Many celebrities use travel agents to book their trips because they can take care of all the details including making sure transportation is there to pick them up curbside, getting extra security at their hotel, and even shutting down an entire restaurant so they can eat a private meal.

Groups

As mentioned many companies, churches, schools and other groups requiring a lot of traveling. It can cut down on a lot of work when booking for a lot of people.

Anyone

Anyone looking to save time and energy in the researching and booking process can reach out to a travel agent for help booking travel.

How Do Travel Agents Make Money

Many people that consider booking with a travel agent have the same question. How do travel agents make money? After all, you want to know what their services will cost you, right? Depending on the agent or agency and what exactly they’re helping you do can determine how exactly they get paid.

Commissions

In the past this was the main source of income for travel agents. Book with a certain airline or cruise line and get x amount of dollars in return. Most of these commissions are percentage based and agents are paid after you pay for your travel. Commissions are nice for you because they are paid for by the company being booked. You’re not paying extra out of pocket for them. However, it should be noted that over the years many of these commissions are disappearing. Airlines don’t pay commissions anymore to keep their rates competitive. Many other travel industries taking are cutting back on these commissions as well.

Booking Fees

Because commissions are non-existent from airlines and are becoming harder to come by from resorts and cruises, many agents charge a flat rate for their services. These booking fees are added to the base rate of your travel costs. These flat rate fees can vary greatly and like many services, often times you get what you pay for.

Some agencies will charge an hourly rate for travel consults. If you’re looking for advice or smaller trips this may be the way to go.

It is important to know that often times if you let an agent know what you’re looking and your budget they may be able to make a custom booking fee that fits your needs.

Bonuses

Some companies that travel agencies work with offer bonuses for hitting certain goals. Just like many sales companies a bonus or cash or travel is offered as an incentive for selling certain products or destinations. A concern of some travel agency skeptics is that agents may push trips that will earn them extra bonuses. Reputable agents won’t do this, they’re more focused on you having a great time. They know they’ll make more money with a return customer than a short-lived sales bonus.

Travel agents may seem like an old and outdated job, but there really is still a need for them in our society. They offer a lot of travel wisdom and can save a bunch of time. Would you use one to book a quick weekend getaway to Vegas? Probably not- as there are quite a few resources out there for that location. Would you use one to book a complex backpacking trip through Southeast Asia? There’s a definite possibility.

See Related Posts:

Traveling For A Funeral

Dos and Don’ts of Air Travel With Young Children

5 Reasons You Should Travel This Year

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Comments 24

  1. Having just finished booking a 2 week trip to Europe (Swizterland, Germany and the UK) I am torn between whether or not to use a travel agent…

    We work through one here at work, and they are great for booking flights, but IMHO not so great for hotels… (of course, it could be just our particular agent who doesn’t seem to listen) I have had to cancel and re-book my own hotels numerous times; putting me in a hotel that does not offer internet or have a business center while I am on a business trip does me no good. I end up spending all day at a Starbucks mooching WiFi.

    I agree though, if I were going to Africa, or somewhere for pleasure – I would consider using a travel agent, until my wife realized she could book the trip online for cheaper. 🙂

  2. good post. cuz, honestly, i did wonder what the point was with travelocity so accessible and moving more and more towards and all-in-one trip planner.

    do travel agents use things like travelocity? or do they have some kind of uber super secret travel agent network that does essentially the same thing but us mundane, non-travel agent types don’t have access to (like real estate agents, for example)?

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    Jeremy-a business trip without internet-is that even possible? Even if I was on a pleasure trip- I would want a business center.

    Chris- pretty sure they have thier own network and software they use- Let me check on that

  4. Great post, Hilarye. I love my travel agent because she lives in the Matrix so I don’t have to. I’m in the travel business myself, so I see how options appear, disappear and morph into something unrecognizable–on a moment’s notice. This happens with air, hotel, tour, cruise–even rental car options. From a business travel outlook, the need for an agent is straightforward: travelers should dwell on their core competence at work, letting the travel planner work on theirs. For personal travel, each traveler needs to make that call. Some agents specialize in cruises, African safaris, Alaska adventures (my favorite), train travel, eco-tours in Costa Rica, etc. etc. Fewer agents specialize in drilling down to find the cheapest point-to-point air fare. I do my best from my perch in Anchorage, Alaska–but sometimes I feel like an Army of One, etc.

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  6. As a Travel Agent myself, I can say that the need for Travel Agents is still great. And it isn’t necessarily “old fashioned people” who use Travel Agents. Some very young and brilliant people do not have the time to go check over all of the thousands of online websites. And those are the people who Travel Agents market to. We don’t want to book the 3 day vacation to Vegas. There isn’t any money in that and a total waste of our time.
    We are there for people who are looking to go on a trip, maybe a cruise but are not sure which one to go on. A young couple probably won’t be too happy on a Celebrity Cruise Line cruise but Royal Caribbean might just be what they are looking for. But who, besides maybe one of their friends, would tell them that? Or how about an upcoming special, that if they wait just a few days to book they will be able to save a few hundred dollars.
    There is still a niche market that Travel Agents have. The easy stiff, airline tickets, 3 days in Vegas, rental cars, or even that Disneyland vacation go ahead and book those online. The other stuff that you have questions about, we are all very happy and eager to share our knowledge about the destination and the trip with the customer to make their dream vacation possible. There is a level of service you get with a Travel Agent that you do not get with an online booking service.

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    Andrea- I hope you didn’t find this post as a personal attack against travel agents. I agree with you and made that point that travel agents can be very valuable to people who don’t have time. I agree with you that travel agents are very knowledgeable in thier fields. I definitly think there is a distinct need for their services in some instances.

  8. Hilarye – Oh no not at all! I think you wrote the article very well. I agree completely with you. There is a stigma out there that travel agents are only for “old fashioned people” but it is funny how many people I get calls from after about 3 days of looking all over the travel sites and they have just confused themselves. Most of the time people do know what they want. We are just here to help them get exactly what they want.

  9. Oh and one more thing, for online being cheaper. That isn’t necessarily always the case. Travel Agents can get exactly the same price, if not better sometimes, for a vacation that someone can get online. But that is just that personal travel agent that isn’t taking the time to look hard enough into our resources.

  10. Andrea, when I get ready to take my wife on a cruise I am coming to your site. And Hillarye – yes, a business trip – for me – is impossible with out the internet.

  11. Hilarye,

    Thanks for the post. It was very insightful and helps me to understand when and when not to use a travel agent.

    Thanks,
    Hannah

  12. I believe travel agents are free as far as the traveler is concerned, is that right? Don’t agents make their money on commissions from the hotels/airlines/rental car places? This was the case for me when we used an agent to plan our honeymoon, but it wasn’t something I realized before that experience.

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  14. @Hilarye – Is that well-known? Or do people assume they are paying a travel agent out-of-pocket? That’s what I thought until I went in and sat down with one. IMO they should educate people about that, especially the up-and-coming generation of travelers (in their 20’s).

    Thoughts?

  15. great post, besides knowing tsg used a travel agent i was wondering why they existed too. um, so okay, i took like a week off from looking at your blog and suddenly you have ads and are a real web site! congrats! you are amazing hilarye. i am so proud of you! atta girl. i knew you said you would be trying some different things this year and you are awesome! great job

  16. Hilarye, I wanted to answer/confirm some of those questions you had, if you don’t mind. (You can tell me to shut my mouth anytime you want.) Travel Agents should normally be free. If you come across an Agent who things they are worth more than other Agent and charges you to put together a vacation, then go find another Agent. I have heard of some agents charging an upfront “research” fee but that money will be used as part of the deposit later on.
    With Airline tickets though … Agents need to charge service fee’s, and they can be steap. (Mine are $35’s per ticket minimum.) The Airlines have become crappy (or they are just trying to stay alive) and are now charging us to run airline tickets for them. It doesn’t make too much sense but that’s the game. In that case, we have to charge a fee or we loose money to even run an airline ticket for you. And we do not get any commission from any airlines anymore. That ended after 9-11.
    Travel Agents do get a commission on pretty much everthing else. It ranges anywhere from 10% – 25%. It depends on how much business that agency does with that supplier.
    With my experience, the younger generation (20 somethings) sometimes think that Travel Agents do cost them extra money. I don’t know how else to get rid of this myth beside just telling the customers I come across. If you have any suggestions, I am very welcome to hearing what they are.
    Hope that helps!

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  18. I think having a travel agent is still useful because a lot of times they can get you the same deals as on travelocity and still give you the headache free planning. The biggest problem I’ve had when booking travel plans myself is changing them once they have been set. With a travel agent, or at least my travel agent, they will take care of the hassle for you.

    Plus, my travel agent has been on just about every single cruise out there and can make excellent suggestions where applicable. Let’s see Orbitz do that!

  19. I have been in the travel industry for over 25 years. And though I also teach I sell travel to Tahiti, Mexico Hawaii, Caribbean and some Europe. Since the internet my business has tripled and expect it to grow more especially now that I sell quite a bit of Tahiti.

    I get all age groups calling my agency and it’s about service. People don’t have time to book or know what to book. But I did stop giving out all my advice if I know the person can take off with it and book through someone else or the internet.

    Lots of shoppers online that’s for sure. But many of them don’t know where to stay or other problems they don’t know about when they book on their own. But if those customers are only interested in asking questions than I become a free service and travel agents should share their expertise to those who will book through them. This is what will keep a travel agent in business.

    Theresa
    http://www.travelinwiththeresa.com
    http://www.tahitiweddings.com

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